I spent the weekend at PAX East, and while I didn’t play nearly all of the games I wanted to, I got to play quite a lot and even discovered a few I’d never heard of that I’m now extremely excited about.
Here’s a brief rundown of some of them, which is still only a fraction of what was there.
Cyber Shadow (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
Retro action platformer with a beautiful faux-8-bit art style; the game’s developers told me the game takes its cues Castlevania and Contra. It feels like we get at least one standout version of this type of game every year at this point, and Cyber Shadow looks to be the next one of these. If I could only play just one other ninja game this year, I’d want it to be Cyber Shadow.
Silver Chains (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
Adventure horror game that has you exploring a creepy old house seemingly haunted by your dead mom and sister. There’s a lot of contrast between light and shadow; the lamp you hold changes the look and feel of the rooms as you move through them. Too scary for me, but some of the best hardwood floors I’ve ever seen in a game. Only crashed on me once.
Vambrace: Cold Soul (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, April 25)
Looks like a clone of Darkest Dungeon with anime vibes, but its developers told me the game is heavily inspired by FTL: Faster Than Light. The goal is to get through dungeons before various meters run down, with every new room you enter taking its toll on you. Unlike Darkest Dungeon, there’s much less grinding, with overall progression pinned to collecting pieces of armor rather than experience points. Hallelujah.
Colt Canyon (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
Twin-stick shooter in which you play as a minimally-pixelated person in a cowboy hat and poncho searching for their loved one by painting the desert red. With blood, of course. It’s a roguelike, so the map is procedurally generated. While the controls were snappy, the map felt a little boring to explore. Great pixel-splatter effects, though.
Dead End Job (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
A ’90s mashup of pop culture references and proletariat drudgery. The art style and humor have the feel of Ren & Stimpy, while the premise is basically Ghostbusters in an office complex. You explore these white collar dungeons by going room to room, killing various creatures, then hoovering up their ghosts to gain XP and earn new abilities. It’s another roguelike, and while the Office Space vibes weren’t doing it for me, the Saturday morning cartoon look makes it a nice, more colorful analogue to The Binding of Isaac. Also Clippy, Microsoft’s troubleshooting paperclip, is one of the bosses, ’cause why not?
N1RV Ann-A (Switch, PS4, PC, 2020)
It’s the sequel to VA-11 HALL-A, but with a bigger selection of spirits to choose from. You pour drinks for customers and then see what pours out of their mouth, like a visual novel where you color in the pages with booze. Very much looking forward to this game. Hopefully it comes to Vita. (It’s not coming to Vita).
Project Downfall (Switch, Xbox One, PC, TBD)
The developers described this one as Hotline Miami transformed into an old school first-person shooter. The art style was definitely cool, but the movement made me queasy, so I stopped playing after only a few minutes. But with a controller in my hand and the sensitivity turned down it looked like it would be great nightmare fuel.
World of Horror (Switch, PS4, PC, 2019)
The world is coming to an end as evil spirits begin to take over. Part visual novel and part role-playing adventure game, it reminded me of the first Mother game, Earthbound’s predecessor, refracted through the lens of a Japanese occult horror flick. I was supposed to complete a magic ritual in my character’s school to banish evil, but I ended up in a fight with a weird squid women who tore my head off.
Windjammers 2 (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
I wrote about Windjammers 2 over the weekend. I’m excited for it to fill the casual sports game hole left by Rocket League (which I still love but don’t play as much anymore). It’s like if the characters from Running Man decided to quit killing one another and go on holiday in 1960s Marseille and play beach volleyball with a frisbee until the sun went down. I was not in the film Running Man, have never been to Marseille, and did not grow up in the ’60s, but 30 minutes with Windjammers 2 made me feel like I’d done all those things.
Samurai Shodown (PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019, Switch, TBD)
Another classic series is getting rebooted, and it’s a fighting game at that. The developers kicked my ass, but I was still able to appreciate the game’s emphasis on being patient and waiting to exploit openings rather than just try to aggressively bang out combos nonstop. The visuals look okay most of the time, but they get especially gorgeous during scene animations and special attacks, during which everything on screen feels like it’s painted on a scroll and fluttering in the wind. In those moments, it reminded me of Okami.
Creature in the Well (Switch, Summer)
One of my favorite games of the show. It was first revealed during Nintendo’s recent Nindies showcase, where we learned it would mix together overhead dungeon-crawling with pinball. I got to explore several rooms, came across some interesting puzzles, and almost beat a really fun boss, all by knocking projectiles around a room with a sword. The gameplay is clever, it looks amazing, and there’s just enough background world-building to imbue everything with a sense of foreboding and mystery.
WRATH: Aeon of Ruin (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
I’m terrible at old-school first-person shooters, but that didn’t keep me from appreciating the artistry and retro appeal of WRATH. It’s built in the original Quake engine, and as a result, it moves and controls incredibly fast, but the focus is on swapping through your arsenal for the most effective tool for the job at any given moment. You can fly through levels and unload ammo onto skeletons, demons, and aliens, but the point is to approach each encounter effectively and efficiently, rather than through pure aggression. Hands down the most responsive game I played at PAX East.
Divinity: Fallen Heroes (PS4, Xbox One, PC, TBD)
The studio that made one of 2017’s best games is bringing it back for a tactics spin-off. It’s still very early, so some of the assets were borrowed wholesale from Divinity 2 and parts of the UI were incomplete. Still, the level I played was enough to grock what Larian Studios is trying to do, which is: dive deeper into some of the series’ systems and world by focusing on discrete battles connected by a choice-driven narrative. Everything, from units to items, can be acquired through completing objectives and advancing the story based on particular choices, so there’s no grinding. Instead of overpowering enemies, the point is to outsmart them by weaving together a complex cascade of elemental attacks and effects based on each unique environment. I’m really excited for this one.
Panzer Paladin (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, TBD)
I had no idea Tribute Games, the small indie studio behind Mercenary Kings and, most recently, Flinthook, was working on something new until I stumbled upon Panzer Paladin on the showfloor. You play as a warrior piloting a mech suit and explore 8-bit inspired side-scrolling dungeons full of enemies that look like they came straight out of Zelda II. Throughout this process, you pick up tons of weapons that can be wielded, thrown, or even broken to release special magic attacks. In the short time that I messed around with this mechanic, my imagination lit up with all the interesting possibilities for making a retro-Zelda game play more like Mega Man.
Aye Captain (TBD)
You’re a pirate commanding a small galleon on the high seas, which are ruled over by a malevolent empire. Everything is procedurally generated, with a map that can be explored in real time from an overhead camera angle. You swap into tactics gameplay whenever you run into another ship and decide you want to kill its crew and take everything they’ve got. Before every encounter, you take part in a short conversation during which you can choose whether to try and escape if the enemy is too strong, bombard them with your cannons first, or negotiate with them for mutual gain. I’m not big on the art style, which is just a hair away from going full-blown Captain Crunch at times, but the role-playing systems and tactical gameplay all felt deep and well thought-out.